Standardized test close up

If 16 years of school has taught me anything, testing students on their ability to memorize information has never been effective. Now that might seem like a strong claim to make, but let me unpack why it is anything but inaccurate.

It starts at a young age. Students are groomed into believing that what is most important in school is acing tests. They value getting good grades over genuinely learning and understanding what is being taught to them. The quality of education is low. Teachers spend more time teaching to a test and less time teaching students real knowledge that will be useful later in life. If students fail in testing, the education system defines that as failure to learn.

The problem is that just because a student does poorly on a test, it does not mean they failed to learn the material; it just means they failed to recall it. Tests, for many reasons, are not a good indicator of how well a student understands what is being taught to them. There are times when students will do well on in-class assignments or homework but will not perform the same when it comes to the test. So why is that?

Let’s talk about test anxiety for a minute. Science Direct defines test anxiety as “the set of phenomenological, physiological and behavioral responses that accompany concern about possible negative consequences or loss of competence on an exam or similar evaluative situation.” In simpler terms, test anxiety refers to the symptoms and responses that a student will have when failure to perform well on a test is an option. I cannot stress how important acknowledging test anxiety is, either in yourself or in your students if you are an educator.

The American Test Anxieties Association (ATAA) found that “about 16-20% of students have high test anxiety, and another 18% are troubled by moderately-high test anxiety.” Yet, the education system still feels like testing is a good measure of one’s ability to learn. Freezing up in the middle of a test is normal. So normal that the ATAA says that test anxiety is, in fact, “the most prevalent scholastic impairment in our schools today.” The education system is in charge of listening to students and adhering to universal learning needs. So why doesn’t it seem like they are actually listening?

Lori Kimiko Santoyo, a third-year UNC Charlotte student studying Biology, says, “Standardized tests force you to cram every bit of knowledge you’ve developed into a single 1-2 hours, and that can cause a lot of anxiety, even in people who do study a lot like me.” Even as a STEM major, she does not agree that standardized testing should be “the norm.”

Most tests are made to see how well students can study, not always to see if students genuinely understand what they are studying. Santoyo believes that “learning effectively is so much more than standardized testing, yet we’re judged so much by those few hours of our life that we’ve spent sitting in a room quietly scrambling our brain into neuronal fondue trying to recall bits and pieces of information.”

The education system should at least consider allowing students the opportunity to use the resources they are given (or have created themselves) on a test. After all, students spend all year taking notes, reading textbooks and turning in homework and assignments— all of which are quite frankly useless if never referred to again.

For us college students, I believe the pandemic helped bring some of these testing issues more to light than in previous years. This semester, my professors have made all of their tests open-note and open-textbook—likely because they believe students will use them anyway at home. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of testing on Lockdown Browser, that crazy invasion of privacy software, or know anyone that is still taking normal proctored exams. Two scenarios of testing format that I will never understand. If students have the resources to do well, they should be able to use them.

It is time to start figuring out more efficient alternatives that better prepare students for the real world—because the real world doesn’t slow down. In this day and age, with the existence of Google, searching for a definition is the easy part. What’s hard is how to apply that definition to one’s situation.

Test scores do not accurately measure how well a student is learning or how well a teacher is educating. It is unfair to the educational process, and a few bad test scores can really affect the student’s drive to succeed or even their ability to stay in school. It is important to make learning interesting and not so detrimental from the start. Students will never value their education if their education doesn’t start valuing them.

So hey, cancel culture! Can we cancel… tests?

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